Published Aug 27, 2020The second feature from Brea Grant (writer and star of the excellent Lucky, also playing at the virtual version of the Fantasia International Film Festival this year), 12 Hour Shift, suffers a little from an oddly-paced plot that feels too low-energy for the type of organ-dealing madness that actually occurs in the film's plot. But when it does pick up the pace and dial up the stakes, it's offbeat, zany and a lot of fun.
Over the course of, well, 12 hours, we follow world-weary ER nurse Mandy (Angela Bettis) on a double shift at a sleepy Arkansas hospital. Aside from having to deal with the usual nursing stresses, Mandy is a drug addict who steals whatever pills (and snacks) she can from her patients. To make matters even more complicated, she's also involved in an organ-smuggling ring, with her not-very-bright cousin Regina (Chloe Farnsworth) acting as transportation, and Mandy's patients as the source. When Regina accidentally forgets an organ she's supposed to take to her boss (Mick Foley) at the hospital, it sets off a whole series of events involving an annoying, Karen-esque patient, a hospitalized prisoner from the local jail (David Arquette), and Mandy's estranged brother, who is in a coma after a recent overdose.
The film works best when it takes more risks, such as its jazzy musical score, its multiple interwoven plots, and its protagonist, who is a terrible person, but one we can still root for. Much of the film's humour comes from Chloe Farnworth's performance as Regina, embodying a Southern Clueless energy as she flails from one absurd scenario to the next like a criminal version of Janice from The Muppets.
Mick Foley as a mob boss is an underwhelming role, and his mob cronies aren't much better. Scenes with Regina usually encapsulate the type of spirit that would have worked well if it were more liberally deployed across the rest of the film: a type of screwball, dark comedy energy present in films like Raising Arizona. It's a shame that spirit doesn't translate to Bettis, who, to be fair, is playing a character who defines the phrase "over it" (and if the film excels at one thing, it's accurately showing just how exhausting and bleak ER nursing can be). For the bulk of the film, we mostly watch her shuffle around the hospital as everything crumbles around her. But 12 Hour Shift wisely decides not to make Mandy totally unlikeable, and she treats certain patients — ones who understand her angry, defeated nature — with empathy and care.
The second half of the film injects a dose of much-needed energy as several interwoven plots begin to mesh together, culminating in a total trainwreck of a situation that makes 12 Hour Shift way more fun to watch, and proving that sometimes it's best for dark comedies to really embrace the comedy part.
Fantasia International Film Festival is taking place online from August 20 to September 2. (HCT.media)